Sunday, May 21, 2017

Junior League Sponsors All Booked Up!

I had the pleasure of participating in the Junior League of Nashville's All Booked Up this weekend.  It was a fun-filled event that served to inspire young readers with readings from local authors, character meet and greets, and writing workshops!  Additionally, the JLN reached out to young minds ranging from Kindergarten to 4th grade with a registration drive for the Nashville Public Library’s Summer Reading Challenge.  The best part of this inspiring event – kids left with a bag full of books to start their very own home library!



All Booked Up is sure to gain momentum and public awareness in the upcoming years!  I know as a local author, teacher, and literacy specialist, the JLN's community focus on local literacy is invaluable.  Thank you, Junior League of Nashville, for your strategic partnership in achieving literacy competency across the cradle-to-career continuum!  For more information on All Booked Up or to become a Junior League of Nashville sponsor, visit https://www.jlnashville.org




Friday, April 21, 2017

Start a YA Book Club!

Starting a book club for young adults is a great way to share the love of literature!  Not sure how to lead the discussion?  Below are 25 engaging questions that can be applied to any book or novel:

1) What is the title?
2) Who is the author?
3) Who is the main character or protagonist?
4) Describe their physical traits.
5) Describe their personality traits.
6) Describe the protagonist using three adjectives.
7) What is the major conflict (problem) the protagonist is facing?
8) How do they resolve their conflict?
9) What is the setting (time and place)?
10) What is the genre?
11) What words would you use to describe the book?
12) What is a new word you learned?  Use it in a sentence.
13) Give a general plot summary.
14) Give the main character some advice on a problem they are facing.
15) Would you want the main character as a best friend?  Why or why not?
16) Change the title of the book to something different.
17) What confused you about the book?
18) What is the overall theme or author’s message?
19) How did the main character change?
20) What question would you ask the author if you could?
21) Would you recommend this book to a friend?  Why or why not?
22) Who would you cast in a movie based on the book?
23) What will you always remember about the book?
24) Do you like the cover art?  Why or why not?
25) What is your favorite quotation from the book?



There are many benefits to leading a book club for young adults!  Besides creating literary luminaries and a love of reading, you will help tweens and teens voice opinions, encourage literary analysis, make predictions, solve problems, and expose them to new authors and genres.  Be a literary role model, and start a Young Adult Book Club today!


For more Book Club ideas and activities, check out my Book Club Bundle: https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Book-Club-Bundle-3121010

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Celebrate National Poetry Month!

April is National Poetry Month, the largest literary celebration in the world.

Why should we devote an entire month to honor words written in verse?  Because poetry is the language of the soul.  When life drowns us with its dark moments, poetry throws us a raft – a verbal sanctuary of healing and beauty.

So I urge you to release your inner poet and succumb to the sensory language, rhythm, flavor, call and response of poetry.  Feel the human spirit and universality of life's shared stories in a stanza.  Read or write a poem this month.  Restore your spirit.  Restore your soul.





Ten Favorite Poems

  1. “Sick” – Shel Silverstein
  2. “Phenomenal Woman” – Maya Angelou
  3. “Annabel Lee” – Edgar Allan Poe
  4. “Oranges” – Gary Soto
  5. “The Road Not Taken” – Robert Frost
  6. Sonnet 130 – William Shakespeare
  7. “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time” – Robert Herrick
  8. “The Kiss” – Sara Teasdale
  9. “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” – Dylan Thomas 
  10. Fragment 31 – Sappho




April Challenge:  Write a Cinquain

A cinquain is five line poem that follows this lyrical pattern:

1) a word for the title
2) two adjectives
3) three verbs
4) a phrase
5) the title again – or synonym


Example:

Chocolate
Dark or milk
Smooth, silky, sweet
Best thing ever
Yum! 


Eyes
Large, mysterious
Watching, rolling, blinking
Tell more than words
Soul-windows


Cinquain
Short, sweet
Five, simple steps
Maybe not so easy…
Voila!

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Help Them Do Their Best on the Test!

Standardized Testing is:

A) Stressful
B) Necessary
C) Something students can succeed on
D) All of the above

Correct Answer - D!



It's that time of year again!  Standardized testing is just around the corner, meaning the anxiety at most educational institutions is off-the-charts!  Never before has there been so much pressure to perform well, as standardized testing determines school ratings, student funding, and a child's classroom placement.  To offset test-taking anxiety, it is paramount we prepare our students with knowledge, skills, and guaranteed-to-succeed test-taking strategies.

For classroom activities and lessons that use humor and positive reinforcement for maximum buy-in, visit my store at TeachersPayTeachers:


Saturday, March 25, 2017

Want to Publish? Know Your Audience!

When authors sit down to write, they often ponder the title, setting, or inciting incident. The first question they should actually be asking is, For whom am I writing this story?  To be successful, it is imperative authors understand the genres and formats associated with books for children and young adults.  I am the first one to admit it can be overwhelmingly confusing, as one can find a host of definitions for what constitutes a picture book.  Alas, I have compiled quick and dirty guidelines for those ambiguous children’s/YA publishing genres.

Quick and Dirty Guidelines for Children’s Publishing Genres 

Picture Books
Age 2-8
Word Count – 500-800
Pages 24-36

Description – Picture books are large in physical size and combine words with captivating illustrations.  Picture books center around a child’s world - usually home, school, or neighborhood.  The illustrations play a significant role in telling the story with some picture books have no words at all.  The plots are simple with one main character/animal who embodies the child’s emotions, concerns and viewpoint. 
Examples: Where the Wild Things Are, Goodnight Moon, Heart and Soul, The Polar Express, Fancy Nancy 


Early Readers/Easy Readers
Age 5-9
Word Count – 500-1,500 Words
Pages 32-64

Description: Early or Easy Reader Books are written for children to read on their own.  They have short sentences, limited vocabulary, and center around a child’s world - school, neighborhood, or home.  Early/Easy Readers have more words and fewer pictures than a picture book, with some stories broken up into very short chapters.  The plot is told mainly through action and dialogue, with books averaging 2-5 sentences per page.  Genres can be fiction or nonfiction.  
Examples: Madeline’s Tea Party, Marley: The Dog Who Ate My Homework, Amelia Bedelia, Nate the Great, “I Can Read” Series 


Chapter Books
Age 7-10
Word Count – 4,000-12,000 Words
Pages 45-60

Description: Chapter books are a child’s first “real” book written for children who are becoming fluent, independent readers.  The main character is usually 8 or 9 years old and includes real-life and fantasy settings.  Stories contain a lot of action with short paragraphs and 3-4 page chapters.  Humor, mystery, and adventure are popular genres. 
Examples: Captain Underpants, Clementine, Magic Tree House, The Time Warp Trio, Amber Brown


Middle Grade Novel
Age 8-12
Word Count – 20,000-40,000 Words
Pages 100-150

Description: Middle grade novels are geared to 10-12 year olds, also known as tweens, with genres similar to those of adult fiction: mystery, adventure, humor, historical, contemporary, fantasy.  Most plot lines, characters, and settings are acceptable, although intense subjects, such as divorce, peer pressure, and drugs/alcohol should be handled skillfully.  Manuscripts are 100-150 pages with complex stories involving subplots, secondary characters, and sophisticated themes.  Protagonists should be 9-13 in age and embody the worldview and emotions of middle graders. 
Examples: Diary Of A Wimpy Kid, Loser, Holes, Hoot, Stargirl


YA Novel
Age 12 and up
Word Count – 40,000 – 75,000 Words
Pages 100-150

Description: YA books are for ages 12 and up with genres similar to those of adult fiction: mystery, adventure, humor, historical, contemporary, and fantasy.  Plots are complex involving several major characters, although a single protagonist should emerge as the focus of the book.  Themes should be relevant to a teenager’s world.  “Edgy YA” includes subjects such as sexuality, drugs/alcohol, bullying, and mental illness. 
Examples: The Fault in Our Stars, The Hunger Games, Between Shades of Gray, Twilight, 13 Reasons Why 


To write is to know your readers.  The first step is to read as many books as you can for your target audience and then of course, write on!  

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Tween Fever Hits Coffee County Middle School!

I had an amazing time last night at Coffee County Middle School's Author Night!  The tweens came out in droves eager to discover new and exciting books penned by local authors.  Thank you CCMS!


Saturday, March 4, 2017

How to Write a Thrilling Short Story

The Bennies of Short Story Writing

Just about everyone I know wants to be a novelist.  But let’s be honest.  Writing a book is a long and tedious process that can take years to finish.  To that end, almost every wannabe novelist I know never even comes close to finishing that elusive manuscript.  Even writing that first chapter can be a daunting task!

But writing a short story is an attainable endeavor with many benefits to the aspiring writer.  At 1,000 – 4,000 words, there is power in the short story.  It’s lean and mean, and can be read in one sitting.  The short story allows the writer the opportunity to explore the uncharted territory of a plot, character, or setting and make it pop!  In addition, one can experiment with other genres, develop their style, and use their short story to expand their platform as a marketing tool.  But most importantly, crafting a short story teaches the writer a vital skill: word economy.  To paraphrase my idol Stephen King, writing is “refined thinking.”  Nothing could be truer than when writing a short story, where the prose must be clean, compact, and concise.  If you are prone to a producing a bloated manuscript, trim the fat and turn it into a short story.  It’s quicker to write and if you’re lucky, quicker to sell.  


SWBS – Somebody Wanted But So…

Okay, so the benefits of writing a short story are clear, but the question still plagues most spinners of words.  How do I write a compelling story in a condensed timeframe, i.e. one sitting?  One word – conflict!  Conflict creates the need for story in the first place.  It is what adds tension and moves the story forward.  Without conflict, there is no story!

You need proof?  Think back in school when you first learned about story structure through Freytag’s Triangle.  Do you recall what’s on top?  Climax!  It is the decision-making, sitting-on-the-edge-of-your-seat moment of the conflict-ridden protagonist that determines the story’s outcome.
When I teach my middle school students about conflict, we use the following SWBS Statement:
Somebody ___________________________ Wanted ___________________________ But_______________________ So __________________________________.  (It is the “but” that is the heart of the conflict in the story).

Let’s look at a few examples of conflict in three classic short stories: “The Necklace,” “The Monkey’s Paw,” and “The Lottery,” paying particular attention to the “but” element.  Note: Major Spoiler Alerts!

“The Necklace” by Guy de Maupassant
Somebody Madame Loisel wanted to appear rich at a party BUT lost the fake necklace she borrowed so she spent years paying it off.

“The Monkey’s Paw” by W.W. Jacobs
Somebody The White family wanted to wish for money on a cursed monkey’s paw BUT their son Herbert got killed so they unwisely wished him back to life.

“The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson
Somebody The Hutchinsons wanted to uphold the town’s traditions BUT Tessie won the lottery so she’s stoned to death.


The Thrilling Threesome 

Okay, conflict rules.  But how do I actually get started?  It’s literally as easy as 1-2-3.  Think of a thrilling threesome story prompt consisting of 1) character, 2) setting, and 3) a compelling conflict.
Here are ten short story prompts just begging to be penned into a story:


Ten Thrilling Threesome Short Story Prompts

1) A C.E.O. (character) gives a keynote address at a convention (setting) when overtaken by a panic attack (conflict).

2) A passenger (character) discovers an unattended carryon (conflict) when flying over the ocean (setting).

3) A book club hostess (character) receives a threatening anonymous note (conflict) at her own home (setting).

4) A disgruntled claustrophobe (character) finds himself locked in an elevator (conflict) at work overnight (setting).

5) A weary taxi driver (character) picks up a sinister stranger contemplating suicide (conflict) who wants to drive around town first (setting).

6) A couple (character) celebrates their anniversary at a cozy restaurant (setting) when a mysterious bouquet of flowers is brought to the table (conflict).

7) A daughter (character) cleans out her parents’ attic (setting) and discovers an urn of ashes (conflict).

8) A valedictorian (character) gets arrested for shoplifting (conflict) right before graduation (setting).

9) An unappreciated secretary (character) calls in sick and goes shopping (setting) where she runs into her boss’s wife with another man (conflict).

10)  A first-day-on-the-job nanny (character) takes the children to the park (setting) where she loses the master key only to have a burglar find it (conflict).



Need Suspense?  Implement G.E.M.

Okay, now that you have a thrilling story starter, throw in a little suspense, which of course is the secret sauce to story telling.  It’s easy with G.E.M. – an acronym I created to front-load my students when teaching the craft of suspense writing.  G.E.M. stands for Gothicism, Expansion of Time, and Magic of Three.

GOTHICISM: All suspense stories can benefit from an element of the gothic genre, such as the supernatural; an eerie, mysterious setting; emotion over passion; or distinctive characters who are lonely, isolated, and/or oppressed.  Throw in a tyrannical villain, a vendetta, or an illicit love affair - you've got Goth gold!  Why Gothicism?  It explores the tragic themes of life and the darker side of human nature.  What’s more, readers are innately attracted to it.  No one wants to read about someone’s perfectly wonderful life.  It’s boring.  Remember – conflict rules!

EXPANDING TIME: Next, I introduce the art of expanding time using foreshadowing, flashback, and implementing "well, um ...maybe…let me see” dialogue."  Expanding time allows the writer to twist, turn, and tangle up the plot.  “Tease your audience,” I tell my students.  “Pile on the problems and trap your protagonist with a ticking clock.  Every second counts with suspense!”  There is an old writing adage that says to write slow scenes fast and fast scenes slow.  By delaying the big reveal, we build tension and punch up the plot but with one caveat.  Expanding time demands a fine-tuned craftiness when writing a short story because of course, your time is limited.  Remember, every word counts!  

MAGIC OF THREE: Finally, the Magic of Three comes into play.  The Magic of Three is a writer's trick where a series of three hints lead to a major discovery.  During the first hint, the protagonist detects something is amiss.  The second hint sparks a more intense reaction but nothing is discovered - yet.  And then - BANG!  The third hint leads to a discovery or revelation.  During the big reveal, I teach my students to use and manipulate red flags and phrases, such as Suddenly, Without warning, In a blink of an eye, Instantly, A moment later, Like a shot, To my shock, and To my horror.      

Adding suspense to your short story tantalizes your readers and breeds amazing results.  It’s what makes a perfectly adequate story “un-put-downable.”  So go ahead, and write a short story that explodes with tension!  1) Start with a thrilling threesome.  2) Punch up the plot with conflict.  3) And, sprinkle it with suspense.  Not only will you hone your craft and have your readers begging for more, it could morph into something bigger - like that elusive novel that no longer seems so impossibly unattainable.  Write on!

(As featured in Killer Nashville's "From the Classroom")
http://www.killernashvillemagazine.com/from-the-classroom-writing-a-thrilling-short-story/